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Why Tom Harkin and a Handful of Other Progressives Opposed the Deal

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Cross-posted from The Nation

Most progressives in the US Senate and House voted in favor of the "fiscal cliff" deal worked out between Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky. They did this despite the fact that the agreement compromised on what was supposed to be a hard-and-fast principle: that tax rates on Americans making $250,000 or more must go up to at least the rates that were in place when Bill Clinton was president. Instead, the deal only ends Bush-era tax cuts on those with incomes above $400,000. That rate, thoughtful progressives argue, "does not generate the revenue necessary for the country to meet its needs for everything from education for our children, to job training, to other critical supports for the middle class."

True, there will be some restoration of tax fairness -- not to mention an extension of unemployment benefits and a delay in across-the-board cuts proposed as part of the so-called "sequester" scheme. That was enough for most congressional progressives, from Senators Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, to Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, and Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, in the House. They voiced their concerns but ultimately voted "yes." 

Many, like Senator Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, did so with considerable concern. "Although it does not do as much as I want, this bill does ensure that the wealthy will be contributing more as we work to bring our deficits under control. I far prefer that choice to further cuts to education, law enforcement, and investments in the infrastructure our economy depends on," Merkley said of the measure. "But let's be clear: this deal carries great risks as well. This deal sets up more cliffs in the near future, including the expiring debt ceiling and the sequestration, pre-planned cuts to programs essential to working families. And as before, there will be some who use these cliffs to launch renewed attacks on Medicare and Social Security. We cannot let those attacks succeed."

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John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

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